Despite her best intentions, Marguerite Frunklin had never been in love before…
Part 1 of 2
by Regan Wolfrom
One of the nine stories from Catholic Guilt and the Joy of Hating Men. This story started off weird, and got weirder, and readers seemed to think it was too weird. So I went back and took another look, found its heart or whatever… I think I got it right this time.
DESPITE HER best intentions, Marguerite Frunklin had never been in love before. She’d been in lust, as had all the girls back home in Ohio when they’d first found out James Franco was studying for a PhD in English, but love was something magical and mysterious to her. It was something she’d been forced to cobble together in her mind with a soulful blend of romantic passages from Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray; from what she’d seen so far, she was pretty sure true love involved at least a limited degree of emotional abuse and dumb and pretty girls taking orders from extraordinarily attractive jackasses.
Marguerite knew she was pretty enough, but she was never sure she could fake being that stupid.
“It’s not like you had any boyfriends back in Ohio,” her brother Bradley said as they stood along the Avenue in the old town of Sintra. They were waiting for one girl or another of his.
“You’re a jerk,” she said. “You used to be a lot less of one back in Ohio.”
He grinned. “I also had braces and a lazy eye. Luckily I didn’t have to bring those with me to Portugal. Things change, French Fry.”
“Let’s not play the nickname game. We all have a past, Bradizzle.”
He punched her on the shoulder; he’d probably meant it to be lighter.
Two of the local guys were walking toward them; Diogo and Netuno, both dressed in soccer shirts and giving her a look.
She still felt like she was back in high school, standing by the lockers and being evaluated.
“They like you,” Bradley said.
“Sure they do.”
“They do. I’ll tell ya, French Fry, if I was worried you’d ever close the deal with one of these guys, I’d have to start kicking a lot more asses.”
Marguerite silently prayed that the boys would find some distraction before they reached her. She felt nervous enough to vomit.
“Boa tarde,” Diogo said with a smile.
She knew he was talking to her, but she pretended it was all meant for Bradley. She slowly looked down at her feet.
“You are going?” Diogo asked.
“Yes, I have to go,” Marguerite said. “We need to get home.”
“He’s asking if you’re going to his party, dumbass,” Bradley said.
“Tell him no.”
“Tell him yourself.”
Diogo started to laugh. “You should go,” he said. “It will be fun.”
“I can’t,” she said.
“Why not?” Bradley asked.
“You know why not.”
“No… I can’t say I do.” He wasn’t going to help.
“I have to study.”
“It’s Friday night. No one has to study.”
“I do,” she said.
Bradley grinned. “No… I’m pretty sure you don’t have anything to study.”
“Then you can go,” Diogo said.
“I can’t,” she said.
“You work too hard.”
“I know. I… I need to go now.”
She waved awkwardly and turned to leave.
“She’s shy,” Bradley said. “You may have to give her a few glasses of ginja to get her to… uh… open up.”
Marguerite prayed to God that no one else caught the joke Bradley was going for. Since English was their second language…
“It’s a joke,” Bradley said. “You guys are supposed to laugh. I’m saying that you should get my sister drunk, Diogo.”
Diogo and Netuno looked confused but they laughed, Diogo a little too heartily.
Marguerite could feel her face blushing.
“She’s blushing, guys,” Bradley said. “You know what that means…”
Marguerite couldn’t take it; she couldn’t stay to defend herself. Bradley would have kept on her like he always did, until she was in tears and everyone else was pointing and laughing.
Marguerite ran home and picked a fight with her father instead. It was his fault they were there, anyway.
Maybe in Ohio, Marguerite thought as she lay on her bed. Maybe there she could have gotten somewhere with a boy, but now that her father had dragged them to Portugal she felt like she was drowning in a foreign language; she didn’t know more than a couple words of Portuguese.
And she didn’t know what the boys expected from her; did she need to be clever and funny, or was she supposed to simply smile and nod? The Portuguese girls didn’t say much to Bradley; they just let him talk on and on about whatever, smiling politely until he’d start sucking on their faces. Would a boy like Diogo want this American girl to sit back and listen to him drone on in a language she could barely understand? She had no way of figuring that out, not without embarrassing herself completely in the process.
Marguerite just wanted to fall in love; she didn’t want to have to worry about all the legwork.
Bradley didn’t have those problems; he’d arrived in Portugal like a fully formed man of action. This new Bradley was nothing like the awkward boy with too many teeth who’d always hung around Marguerite and her friends, hoping his amazing ability to buy alcohol would lead to a girlfriend.
In Portugal Bradley got exactly what he wanted. He made it look so easy.
He’d taken more than a few of them to the marbled bottom floor of the Initiation Well, which would also be a pretty good euphemism for whatever he did to those girls once they got down there.
“It’s to initiate the secret members of the Knights Templar,” Bradley had told her once. “At the bottom of the well, representing the ninth circle of Hades, they’d swear an oath. They’d pledge their lives, swearing that they’d rather suffer forever in hell than bring dishonor to the rite.”
“And that really works?” she’d asked. “You take them down there and give them a bunch of crap and they get all open for business?”
“It doesn’t matter what I say… it’s how I say it.”
She remembered rolling her eyes at him, pretending that she thought it was all so stupid, but secretly wishing that Diogo or Netuno or… well, she wasn’t sure about funny-eared Rafael… no, not Rafael… but wishing one of the boys would give her some bullcrap about ancient knights or solemn oaths. All it would take was one bronze-skinned Pork and Cheese boy to look past her boss-level of awkwardness… just one, and then Marguerite would finally know what all the fuss was about.
Until then, she’d lay in bed and wait. And play a little Xbox with some of her friends back home once they came online.
“It was a great party,” awkward Rafael told her the next afternoon as he followed along beside her on the way to the butcher; Sintra is a town where there’s always a bored guy or two hovering around the girls as they try and do whatever.
“You went?” Marguerite asked.
“I walked by. It looked like fun.”
Marguerite knew that Rafael wouldn’t have been invited. She decided not to press any further, to spare his feelings and because she didn’t feel like talking.
“Do you like Portugal?” he asked.
“Yes. Even our bedrooms smell like fish.”
That made her smile.
He smiled, too. “And every time you look down at your dinner plate, there’s a set of eyeballs staring back up at you.”
Marguerite laughed. It sounded like he was reciting a joke book.
“What do you think of the driving?” he asked, bouncing as he walked.
“Are you setting up a joke?”
He blushed and nodded.
She laughed again. “It’s something,” she said.
“In Portugal we spend as much time driving on the sidewalks as we do on the road.”
She gave him a little smirk. “Not your best.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Your brother told me you play video games.”
“Don’t girls play video games in Portugal?”
“I don’t know. I play video games. Maybe we should play sometime?”
“Maybe,” Marguerite replied. She’d already lost interest.
As much as she wanted someone to notice her… no. Not Rafael. He just didn’t count.
Marguerite spent the rest of her day out by herself, since her father had chosen to work from home rather than drive in to Lisbon on a Saturday, and the last thing she wanted to do was apologize for the most recent most terrible things she’d ever said to him.
He’d chosen his career over his family. He’d left Marguerite’s mother locked in a hospital ward in Cincinnati. He’d given Bradley everything he’d ever wanted, while giving Marguerite nothing more than his pale complexion that would burn in minutes in the Portuguese sun if she didn’t dunk her face in a gallon of sunscreen three times a day.
There was no way she would say she’s sorry.
So on days like that she’d leave her Xbox and go out, wandering the mountains of the moon that towered over the town of Sintra, sketching in her notebook and identifying plants, and wishing for something unusual to happen.
She’d been walking through the grounds of the great and mystical estate of Quinta da Regaleira, on a cloudy day, strolling through the lush gardens that are always on the line between scenic and overgrown. It was a place that was not nearly as old as the mountains around it, but still it seemed almost as magical to her.
She’d been walking not far from the Initiation Well, the stone staircase that descends into the earth, when she stumbled on two plastic garden gnomes.
One looked playful, with a toothy smile and a long light gray beard, dressed in an orange hat and tunic and no pants, while the other was more serious-looking, dressed all in dark brown with a pipe hanging out of his mouth. The second gnome had a dark and curly beard, and nothing about him seemed friendly. The two gnomes looked nothing like a matching pair.
“Who left you here?” she asked them, almost as if she expected an answer. There was no way those gnomes belonged in the glade of blue and white flowers and brown-capped mushrooms.
She sat down beside them, nibbling on one of the mushrooms that she recognized from one of her field guides, finding it edible but bland; still, it reminded her of home, of picnics at Shawnee Lookout, of having friends and family around her, of not being half a world away, of not being so damned lonely all the time.
She picked up the gnomes, cradling them in her arms like two hairy watermelons, carrying them with her as she decided to climb down the stairs of the stone-columned well. She’d only been down there with Bradley and his bragging before; now she had two little guides, funny-looking and plastic, to take her down the mystical stairway, and she felt both like laughing and crying at the two-foot boyfriends she’d found.
As she walked with the gnomes she started to feel funny, as though her heart were beating louder; she could feel the pulsing through the gnomes themselves, as if they themselves had grown little hearts of their own. Had she been wrong about the mushrooms? She didn’t think that was it; Marguerite felt that she was probably just overwhelmed by loneliness.
The trip down was long, a hundred and twenty steps if she remembered it right, and she paused at each of the platforms, not that she’d admit that she needed to catch her breath so often. She’d once been an athlete, but now she just felt like a freckled cream puff.
She reached the bottom half-winded, and walked out from the dark stairwell into the marble floor in the middle. She looked straight up, past the rows of stairs and stone columns, up to the cloudy spring sky; it had started to rain lightly, and the drops of water fell like mist on their way down to the deep.
“It feels magical,” she said. She realized that she was either talking to nobody or to two plastic gnomes.
Marguerite put them both down on the floor, placing each on a red arrow of their own, pointing to what she thought were east and south.
“I’ll take the north,” she said as she stepped onto an arrow of her own. She dropped down to one knee and could feel her eyes welling up with tears. She felt like an idiot.
“You’re upset,” someone said. A warm voice… a friendly, older man.
“A little,” she replied. She looked around but could not see him. She found it unnerving to be talking to an unknown man hiding in the shadows.
“You are beautiful… you shine like an angel from heaven.”
“You’re weirding me out, sir. I… I can’t see you.”
“Look to your feet, my darling.”
She looked down, and there she saw the little orange gnome looking back up at her, the plastic now gone and his smile now real.
“It’s magic, dumbass,” the other gnome said, his voice hard and unfriendly. He was just as alive but not nearly as pleasant.
“I think it’s the mushrooms,” Marguerite said. “I need a new field guide.”
“Tell me of love, my angel,” the orange gnome said. “Tell me of the love you want for your life.”
“Tell us what you like to do for kicks,” the brown gnome said.
They were alone down there, as far as she could tell, so she told them what she wanted. “I just want to be in love… it doesn’t matter who it is. It’s the feeling I want… not the boy or anything. Well, okay… not Rafael…”
“Would you love me?” the orange gnome asked. “Could you love a humble creature of the soil?”
“You can have us both,” the brown gnome said with little enthusiasm. “The two of us, right here, right now. No waiting.”
“That’s very nice,” Marguerite said, truly flattered, “but I’m not the kind of girl who goes for that type of thing.”
“We’ve been waiting forever for you, Marguerite,” the orange gnome said. “For as long as there’s been magic in these mountains we’ve been waiting.”
“It’s more or less our destiny to make love to you,” the brown gnome said. “So it’s easier if you just say ‘yes’”.
“I need to go,” she said. “Some friends are waiting for me at the Chapel.”
She felt the grip of four small hands on her ankles. Her first instinct was to kick the dirty gnomes as hard as she could, but for some reason she didn’t. She could have ended it there, threw them off and stomped on their little heads, but she didn’t.
She wanted something to happen.
Soon they were both hugging her with their entire bodies, holding her firmly and amorously… or possibly humping her legs.
“Love us, Marguerite,” the orange gnome said.
“Let’s find somewhere a little more private,” the brown gnome said.
“I guess I have a few minutes,” she said.
The gnomes led her toward the dark at the edge of the well, pulling on her knees and almost tripping her. As they reached where the stairs met the rock, a door opened to a tunnel that she’d never seen before.
“A second tunnel,” she said.
“Our secret tunnel,” the orange gnome said.
“Where it’ll just be the three of us,” the brown gnome said.
They went into the tunnel, stepping into the dark. The stone door closed behind them, and all of the light disappeared.
“I can’t see,” she said.
They kept leading her, so she felt she had no choice but to trust them, and they walked for another few minutes before they stopped tugging at her knees.
“This is our quiet and humble home,” the orange gnome said.
“Take off your clothes and lie down,” the brown gnome said.
“This doesn’t sound like love to me,” Marguerite said.
“It’s passion unbridled,” the orange gnome said. “It burns like an eternal flame for you, my angel.”
“Do you want this or not?” the brown gnome asked.
She knew she did.
She took off her shirt and her pants, and laid down with only her underwear on. The ground beneath her was much warmer and softer than she expected, like a bed of grass and flower petals. It smelled even better than the gardens above.
“How does this work?” she asked. “You guys are like less than two feet tall.”
“Love finds a way,” the orange gnome said.
“It’s not about size,” the brown gnome said. “It’s all in how you use it.”
Marguerite didn’t ask any more questions, and soon she felt the hands on her body, removing her underwear and touching her skin. It felt different, like one of those massage machines at the shopping mall, or what she’d expect it felt like if you wandered naked through a waterless car wash. It wasn’t what she’d imagined, but it did feel good.
Both gnomes touched her and both gnomes kissed her. She couldn’t be sure who was who, though she managed a strong guess from the feel of each beard. They tickled her in a way she’d never expected, and she was surprised at just how arousing it was.
There were more than a few minutes of touching and kissing, and biting and the faintest pulling of her hair. And then she was pretty sure both gnomes had their way with her, the first soft and gentle, the second rough and hard. Each one was special in its own way, but she knew which lover she preferred.
She felt two tiny kisses against her lips, one after the other.
And then the gnomes were gone.
Marguerite felt around blindly for her underwear; failing that she eventually found the rest of her clothes. She got dressed and started pushing along the wall towards where she thought she’d come in, finding her way through the blackness with many bumps and scrapes against the cold and hard cavern.
Finally she came to what she thought was the hidden rock door, but she couldn’t find a way to open it. She shoved her whole body against it, weathering the scratching of the stone against her skin.
She called out for help but she didn’t think anyone could hear her.
She stood there for a few minutes, too overwhelmed to weep, and then she made her way back to the grass and flower bed, to see if the tunnel carried on beyond it. She felt all along the rock, looking for a passage, but the only way in was where she’d come from; she was trapped underground, abandoned by her small and bearded lovers.
It didn’t feel real anymore. She didn’t see how they could have left her behind.
Exhausted, she curled up on the grass and flower bed and went to sleep.
>> onward to Part 2 (coming Thursday, May 23, 2013)